China's 2014: The View From House Arrest

A commentary by Bao Tong
china-graft-jan2014.gif Members of the New Citizens Movement hold banners in public, urging officials to disclose their assets as a check against corruption, in Beijing in a file photo.

The dazzling anti-graft campaign of 2014, which took on the endemic and deeply tangled web of corruption amid a fanfare that even the deaf could hear, is worthy of reflection.

The most memorable images from the past year have come from the anti-corruption campaign, which bagged more than 10 tigers, breaking a record for ancient and modern China.

When it comes to corruption, and fighting corruption, China under the leadership of the [ruling Chinese Communist] Party leads the world.

All of the corrupt officials are supplied by the party, which governs the bureaucracy, the markets, the natural environment, fame and fortune, civil and military affairs—all of which are rotten to the core.

People don't know whether to laugh or cry at this interplay between corruption and the fight against it.

Ideologues like Yi Junqing [dismissed from his official posts and investigated for corruption in January 2013], talked about a "self-confident system."


Everyone wants to see improvements in the system.

I, who am unenlightened and of shallow understanding, have come up with my own theory: China will see a never-ending proliferation of tigers for as long as its citizens have no right to vote, nor to monitor officials.

But up until this point, the party has had the monopoly on fighting corruption. If ordinary people try to do it, they are treated as criminals.

So many of our friends have been detained because of this.

Perhaps this was because they reported Tiger Zhou [Yongkang, former security chief], or because they continue to call on officials across the country to reveal their assets, or because they stood for the rights of citizens to fight corruption, or for constitutional government, or for universal suffrage.

Law-abiding citizens

Now that they've been detained, I'll probably be next.

Those who were detained were, to the last man and woman, law-abiding citizens who upheld the fight against corruption, although I hear that we're "ruling the country according to law" these days.

So, was their crime to express an opinion about the fight against corruption that wasn't to the taste of our public servants? Or did their view of what constitutes corruption not measure up to the benchmark set by the party central committee?

Didn't anyone tell them that universal values and Chinese characteristics can't inhabit the same universe?

The fight against corruption in China isn't led by its people, but by the party, and if citizens try to stick their oar in, that will amount to criminal behavior.

'Splendid ideas'

We have had two plenary sessions of the central committee [since the 18th Party Congress in November 2012], the third plenum and the fourth plenum.

At the third plenum last year, the theme was the "decisive role played by the markets," which I unreservedly support. But let's be clear what we're dealing with; it's not monopolies from outside China, but within the party-state itself.

This year's fourth plenum decided that we should govern the country according to "law." Naturally, this is a splendid idea.

Looking back on the Aug. 31 decision of the National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee, it suddenly becomes clear that things had to be this way, if the promises of universal suffrage and Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong were to be implemented according to "law."

I would still like to sing the praises of this idea.

So I will express my respect for the Inner Mongolia High People's Court, which showed great courage in overturning an 18-year-old miscarriage of justice [after exonerating a man it ruled was wrongfully executed in connection with a rape and murder case earlier this month].

A clean slate

If such decisions became the norm, then the slate would be wiped clean of countless miscarriages of justice designed and manufactured by officials large and small at every level of government, and there would be hope for justice in China!

I look forward to a time when they do become the norm.

Normalizing behavior is so much better than merely setting an example. Only when we see examples of such cases every day will the fourth plenum begin to live and breathe.

China did achieve something irreversible in 2014: the north-south water diversion project, which has now been inscribed into the annals of party history, and the true value of which must now be decided by our descendants.

Those who have no wish to hear different opinions should cover their own ears rather than seek to stop up the mouths of other people.

When will the central committee of the Chinese Communist Party leave a genuine legacy to China, and approve the principle that speech is not a crime?

So passed 2014; the 2014 I remember, anyway.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.

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